When you're expecting a healthy baby, just any old diet won't do. After all, when you're pregnant, you're both feeding yourself and growing a new life. Learn what to eat, what not to eat, and the key nutrients you need when you're expecting.
9 Key Nutrients for Growing Your Little One
Whether your diet during pregnancy emphasizes ample healthy foods or includes crave-worthy junk foods, it's important to consume critical nutrients on a daily basis. Add the following nutrients to your list of musts, and consider taking supplements to ensure that you get the appropriate levels each day.
Known for building strong bones and teeth, calcium is also helpful for preventing blood clots and assisting with muscle function. Mothers-to-be can find calcium in dairy products, dark green vegetables, and some calcium-fortified foods.
2. Folic Acid
Folic acid is important for lowering the risk of an early delivery. Many doctors recommend taking folic acid supplements, but foods like citrus fruits, dried beans, and green vegetables are also natural sources of folic acid.
Iodine is critical for helping your growing baby's nervous system develop, and iodine supplements can help prevent some instances of brain damage and disability. Low iodine levels can cause early delivery, miscarriage, and even stillbirth. Iodine is prevalent in seafood, eggs, and some vegetables.
One of the most important nutrients for pregnant women, iron helps with lowering the risk of both premature delivery and low birth weight. It does so by preventing anemia and producing hemoglobin. Iron can also keep your energy levels up, combat depression, and fight irritability. Pregnant women can find iron in beef, pork, spinach, and dried beans.
5. Vitamin A
Along with Beta-Carotene, vitamin A is important for helping healthy teeth and bones grow. Vitamin A is in many brightly colored fruits and vegetables like spinach, broccoli, pumpkin, carrots, and cantaloupe.
6. Vitamin B
B complex vitamins, which include thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, biotin, and more, keep skin and hair healthy as well as improve energy levels and regulate internal systems. Vitamin B is in organ meats, eggs, wheat germ, nuts, and many fruits and vegetables.
7. Vitamin C
One of the most prevalent natural antioxidants, vitamin C helps your immune system stay strong and assists with absorbing other vitamins and nutrients. Vitamin C is prevalent in strawberries, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and other fruits and vegetables.
8. Vitamin D
Important for its role in assisting with calcium and phosphorous absorption, vitamin D helps build strong teeth and bones. Pregnant women can ingest vitamin D by drinking milk and eating fatty fish or by soaking up some sunshine.
9. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is critical for creating and using both muscles and red blood cells. It's easy to find natural sources of vitamin E in nuts, spinach, and some vegetable oils.
What to Eat When You're Pregnant
Finding a healthy balance can prove challenging when you're pregnant, especially if you're managing feelings of nausea or intense cravings. Though occasional junk food won't hurt your diet during pregnancy, it's important to keep most of your calorie consumption to healthy, whole foods.
While you might be eating for two, keep in mind that you only need a few hundred extra calories each day, depending on how far along you are. You don't need any extra calories during the first trimester, but you need about 300 additional calories per day during the second trimester and 450 extra calories per day during the third trimester. Feel your best by choosing the following foods.
Eating beef, lamb, turkey, and egg yolks is a great way to get the protein you need throughout the day. When you choose protein, however, make sure to opt for a lean cut. Most pregnant women should reduce their fat consumption to less than 30 percent of their daily calorie total, so keep the fatty proteins out of the mix.
Keep in mind that many legumes like dried beans and lentils are also high in protein and low in fat. Since legumes are high in fiber, they can also help regulate your digestive system.
Grains are an important part of a pregnancy diet, as long as they're protein- and nutrient-packed whole grains. If you're used to eating white bread and processed grains, make the switch to whole grains as soon as possible. Plain oatmeal with milk, fresh fruit, and a hint of sweetener is a smart way to start the day, and whole-grain bread will supply you with ample fiber and vitamins to get you through the day. If you opt for pasta, rice, or other grains for lunch or dinner, make sure to reach for brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and other whole grains like quinoa or bulgur.
Fruits and Vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and nutrients. While most make great additions to a pregnancy diet, make sure that you consume a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout your pregnancy. Some vegetables even help you absorb other nutrients, so they work well when paired with certain proteins or grains. No matter which fruits and veggies you choose, however, be sure to wash them thoroughly before eating. Raw produce can harbor listeria and other bacteria, which can cause serious health problems for you and developmental problems for your baby.
Along with adhering to a healthy diet, most pregnant women should also take prenatal multivitamins. These supplements are formulated with a beneficial blend of vitamins and nutrients like folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin C, and more. Prenatal multivitamins are critical for many vital functions like immune health, brain support, and skeletal development. They also offer a strong nutritional balance to ensure that mothers-to-be and new mothers alike get the nutrients they need to pass them along to their growing babies.
If you follow a strict diet or have a deficiency, like anemia, taking prenatal multivitamins and other supplements is even more important. Be sure to consult with your health care provider about vitamins and supplements to ensure that you get everything you need.
What to Avoid When You're Expecting
Though it's important to get the right nutrients, you shouldn't eat just anything while pregnant. Keep yourself and your growing baby safe by avoiding the following foods and drinks.
Cut out any and all beer, wine, cocktails, and other alcohol as soon as possible once you learn that you're pregnant. Consuming alcoholic beverages while pregnant can cause everything from harmful physical defects to challenging learning disabilities and even emotional issues. Most experts recommend relinquishing alcohol throughout pregnancy and drinking healthier beverages like water or fruit juice instead.
Though you don't necessarily have to remove caffeine from your diet completely, most experts recommend reducing your intake significantly. Consuming caffeine while pregnant can lead to lower birth weight, and women who drink a cup or more of coffee each day are twice as likely to miscarry. When calculating your daily caffeine intake, keep in mind that caffeine is present in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and even chocolate.
Raw Seafood and Undercooked Meat
For most pregnant women, raw foods like oysters, sushi, and other seafood are off limits. You should also take care to avoid undercooked chicken, beef, and other meat as well as pâté and deli meat. Raw seafood and undercooked meat are one of the primary causes of listeriosis, a dangerous infection that can cause severe problems for pregnant women and their unborn babies. Since listeria can affect both mother and child, it can cause miscarriage and stillbirth and might even lead to infections in the central nervous system.
If you opt to eat seafood and meat while pregnant, take care to cook it completely. Test meat to be sure it's cooked to at least 160 degrees or 180 degrees for poultry. If you indulge in leftovers, be sure to reheat them until they reach at least 165 degrees. Be sure not to sample your cooking or your leftovers until any meat or seafood is cooked to a safe temperature.
When it comes to fish, enjoy even fully cooked fish and seafood in moderation. Since most species contain a type of mercury that can be harmful to the brains of growing babies and children, be sure to limit fish to 12 ounces per week.
Unpasteurized cow's and goat's milk can also carry listeria, so you should avoid eating them while pregnant. In addition to the milk itself, be sure to avoid soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk like brie, feta, queso fresco, or Camembert. While most hard cheeses, processed cheeses, and cottage and ricotta cheeses are safe to eat while pregnant, you should always check the label before indulging.
When developing a diet during pregnancy, it couldn't be more important to understand what you should and shouldn't eat. Be sure to consume all the nutrients essential to staying fit and developing a healthy baby, and supplement with prenatal multivitamins to make sure you check all the boxes.